Social, but distant - The Rise of Live Streaming for Fitness during COVID-19
Updated: Jun 16
To enforce social distancing and attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19, all gyms and indoor sporting venues in Australia were ordered to close from midday March 23, 2020.
On March 22, my evening viewing of Married at First Sight (yes, I know...) was interrupted by a live statement by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. At this moment, I knew, "it was getting serious." The panic I felt when I saw "all gyms to close from midday tomorrow" flash across my screen is a feeling I will never forget. This may sound slightly dramatic, and overlooking the 'bigger picture' to what is happening in the world at present, however for myself, like many I am sure, the gym was not only a place where I "chased gains", but also vital to my mental health.
In the past year, I have spent numerous hours at World Gym Coomera (and lost 20kgs post-pregnancy - woohoo). However, it is not just the gym that I am mourning, but also the sociality. I am an academic who works mostly from home, and most often, the conversations I have before a class is the only adult conversation I will have all day. The gym is my one hour of alone time every day, away from kids, away from work, away from life. I was worried about the gyms closed indefinitely; how will I keep fit? Will I gain all the weight I lost? will I lose my social connections? Will I lose my 'me time'?
With the world as we know it mostly 'closed for business' and everyone spending more time at home, it's more important than ever that we stay healthy and positive. We are always told to 'isolate,' practice 'social distancing,' and 'not to touch anything.' It can be very lonely. However, what has followed in the past 14 days has been unexpected, but amazing to witness.
All across the world, garages doors have been opening and providing new opportunities for the fitness industry. I have tried numerous times to purchase gym equipment, for it to be all sold out within minutes of restocking. I am left with my body, which isn't the worst thing. I am 'forced' to go for runs (which I am learning to love, being outside and getting a real tan instead of from a can) and complete crazy bodyweight circuits that my friends post on social media as 'challenges.' A friend posted a simple bodyweight workout that I completed, and reposted with a screenshot of time. As a result, 20 other friends have since taken part, trying to beat the time. We are craving simple ways to keep moving, and social media is providing the ultimate vehicle for our maintaining our "social fitness."
As I went for my morning walk yesterday, I could hear a fitness trainer yelling at a group of clients, "get lower in your squat, ten more reps." As I got closer, I noticed it was not an 'illegal underground' group PT session, but instead, my neighbor had her laptop set up on a box and was working out with five other people on Zoom. Live streaming has not only provided opportunities for fitness trainers to provide instruction from their own homes but also offers social experiences where people can still work out together and bridge the distance completing a shared activity. In comparison to posting a 'workout' idea on social media as a photo, or on-demand video, live streaming is unique. There is a time when it is live - I know I have to turn up/be ready to workout at that time; it is 'live.' The trainer can see me, and I can see and interact with others while we all complain about doing 100 burpees as a warm-up (just like any other day).
When I started my Ph.D. in 2017, there were limited organizations that were 'live streaming,' there were issues with resources, uncertainty on what to stream, and lack of understanding on how to stream. However, amongst the COVID-19 haze, the sudden shift has inspired creativity and flexibility for fitness, which were previously dependent on physical locations, to now bring 'fitness to your home.' We no longer need any equipment or fancy software to live stream. We can just simply 'go live' and share a unique moment in our new 'reality' with others and allow them to have a glimpse into our worlds. I can now do anything, including F45, Yoga, Zumba, HIIT, Boxing, Barre all from the comfort of my own home (or garage), and join a group of like-minded individuals who are working out at the same time as me.
The interactive, immersive, immediate, and social aspects of live streaming make it a unique possibility to create some sense of normalcy in a world filled with so much uncertainty. Whilst I don't know what is going to be announced tomorrow as we face further lockdown laws, I know live streaming is a way to connect.
Previously 'online fitness' was hidden behind pay-walls. You had to download apps or pay for member subscription. The unique movement of COVID-19 has meant gym and 'fitness influences' are now offering content for free through social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. In the past week, I have opened my phone to numerous live sessions and can see a number of free remote workouts, and it may be well on the way to becoming my 'new normal.' Whilst, the live streaming does not replace my favorite team cross-fit works and human-to-human connection, it does provide a sense of accountability and community. I no longer have the panic about gyms being closed, as we are no longer social distancing, but social connecting.